Let’s worry about axes and labels later. For now, take a look at the graph below. The red dots represent Hall of Fame quarterbacks (or players not yet eligible but very likely to wind up in Canton). The blue dots represent non-HOF quarterbacks. The black dot? That’s Eli Manning.
Okay, so what the heck is this chart? What it’s *not*, is the most sophisticated way to measure the value of a quarterback. Instead, it’s a quick-and-dirty method I calculated to measure quarterback dominance.
- Step 1) Calculate each quarterback’s ANY/A for each season of his career where he had enough pass attempts to qualify for the passing title (14 attempts per team game). ANY/A, of course, is calculated as follows: (Passing Yards + PassTDs * 20 – INTs * 45 – Sack Yards Lost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks).
- Step 2) For each quarterback, award him 10 points if he led the league1 in ANY/A, 9 points if he finished 2nd, 8 points if he finished 3rd, … and 1 point if he finished 10th. A quarterback receives 0 points if he does not finish in the top 10 in ANY/A or does not have enough pass attempts to qualify.
- Step 3) For each quarterback, add his “points” from each season to produce a career grade.
So in the chart above, the Y-Axis is number of career points, with the X-Axis simply showing the number of quarterbacks on the list. I have included Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Rodgers as HOF quarterbacks for these purposes. This is not based on my subjective opinion of those players, but based on my subjective opinion of their likelihoods of enshrinement. The table below shows all 150 quarterbacks2 with at least 6 “points” using this system. Again, this is not intended to be THE SYSTEM — if anything, this would be that — but a quick and dirty method that I think is very easy for us all to understand. We are looking at the best measure of efficiency, then we look at dominance, and we give points for finishing with higher ranks. Nothing more, nothing less.3
So if this system is so simple, why use it? Because it does a pretty impressive job of actually identifying HOF quarterbacks. Consider:
- The top 11 quarterbacks by this method are in the HOF or will be first ballot inductees.
- Charlie Conerly is the highest-ranked quarterback not in the HOF. This methodology overstates Conerly’s career in a few ways, but he’s a legitimate borderline HOF contender, and it wouldn’t shock me if one day he’s nominated by the Seniors’ Committee. You can read some more thoughts about Conerly in the footnote, but the main reason he’s overrated here is that Conerly played in the era of 10-12 teams, so finishing in the top 10 was hardly the same accomplishment it is now.4
- The next highest-ranked quarterback not in the HOF is Tommy Thompson, on the back of (what appeared to be) dominant years in ’41, ’42, ’47, and ’48. But while Thompson was a good quarterback, he’s very overrated in this analysis. In ’41 and ’42, only four quarterbacks qualified for the passing title each year, so finishing 2nd in ANY/A is not that impressive. His performances at the end of the decade were very good, but again, this was a different era and he was competing with only a handful of talented passers.
- Only two other quarterbacks in the top 305 are not in the HOF or likely HOFers. One is Ken Anderson, the unofficial holder of the “Best quarterback not in Canton” title. The other is Philip Rivers, who just might be into the “likely HOFer” category by the end of 2014. So of the top 30 quarterbacks, we’ve got two guys from the ’40s and ’50s who can “game” the system here, and two quarterbacks who are worthy HOFers. Every one else is in, or will be in, the Hall of Fame. That’s pretty good.
- The next tier of 20 or so quarterbacks contains five of the final remaining Hall of Fame quarterbacks: John Elway (who was better than his numbers), Warren Moon (who was better than his numbers for a different reason), Joe Namath (also better than you think), Jim Kelly (okay, not my favorite statistical quarterback, but 4 straight Super Bowl appearances helped his candidacy) and Bob Griese (the forgotten HOF QB, and in any event, undoubtedly in the bottom tier of Hall of Fame quarterbacks). The last Hall of Fame quarterback is George Blanda (down at #58), who is as unique as any player in NFL history (which means you wouldn’t want to compare a modern quarterback to Blanda when determining whether he is a Hall of Famer).
Eli Manning? He’s down in the 130s. So no, his statistical profile is nowhere near that of a Hall of Fame quarterback. Frankly, it’s not even worth debating, except with the #2RINGZ crowd. Manning ranked 10th in ANY/A in 20126 and 2009; he finished 5th in ANY/A in 2011, his one legitimately great statistical year. And that’s it.
No really, that’s it. He’s been slightly above average, average, or worse in every other year of his career.7 That’s far below quarterbacks like Trent Green and Tony Romo, and behind guys like Matt Hasselbeck and Donovan McNabb, too. But after all, Eli is the twitter era’s version of Jim Plunkett, right?8
Not exactly. Plunkett was a legitimately outstanding playoff quarterback, to the extent a concept like that actually has any meaning. By placing more weight on the most important playoff games, Plunkett averaged 7.48 ANY/A in ten playoff games against defenses that allowed 4.36 ANY/A in the regular season. He was a top 10 playoff quarterback. Eli, on the other hand, has merely been pretty good. Manning checked in as the 33rd best playoff quarterback statistically, averaging 6.26 ANY/A against defenses that allowed an average of 5.28 ANY/A. Manning was good in the playoffs, but not historically dominant by any stretch. He also hasn’t been nearly as impressive as his brother in the postseason, despite popular opinion.
Will Eli Manning make the Hall of Fame one day? I have no idea. But if he does, he would stand out as a very odd outlier. Manning has had one great regular season, and that one season wasn’t even one of the top 100 quarterback seasons ever. The pro-Manning case takes about three seconds worth of thought, and it is entitled to be given weight commensurate with that level of thinking.
I will close with a fun searchable table, showing the number of “points” produced by each of the 150 quarterbacks in their 10 best seasons. For sorting purposes, I have included the year in the cell for each player. For Peyton Manning, for example, his best four years read 10.2012, 10.2006, 10.2005, and 10.2004. That means he received 10 points (i.e., finished first in ANY/A) in 2012, 2006, 2005, and 2004. Happy searching!
|Norm Van Brocklin||10.1954||10.1952||10.1950||9.1960||9.1953||9.1951||8.1955||7.1957||6.1959||3.1958|
- For purposes of this post, I have excluded AAFC stats, but combined the AFL and NFL as one league. [↩]
- Starting in 1937. Sorry, Arnie Herber, Dutch Clark, Paddy Driscoll, and Jimmy Conzelman. I also am excluding Ace Parker, who was more master of all trades than quarterback. [↩]
- And it’s not even adjusted for SOS, like the GQBOAT post. [↩]
- He also split time with other quarterbacks from time to time, which means his efficiency numbers don’t account for the fact that he wasn’t putting up the gross value that you might think. As for why he didn’t make the Hall of Fame, the typical reasons apply. He was competing with Van Brocklin, Tittle, Layne, Graham, and Unitas for accolades in the ’50s, and wound up disappointing by winning just 1 title. [↩]
- Okay, Boomer Esiason is tied for the top 30. He’s also a borderline HOF candidate, IMO. [↩]
- Note PFR lists Manning 12th in ANY/A that year, using 224 dropbacks instead of 224 pass attempts as the floor for qualifying. Since both San Francisco quarterbacks that year fit into that gray area, it’s not unreasonable to say Manning was more like the 11th best passer that year. But what’s the point in splitting hairs when the case is a slam dunk? [↩]
- 2014 pending, of course. [↩]
- Let’s ignore the fact that Plunkett isn’t in the HOF, of course. [↩]